ome 5 million Baha’is throughout the world, from Andorra to Zimbabwe, hold a special place in their heart for Iran, as it is the birthplace of their religion. Despite the heavy persecution experienced by the Iranian Baha’i community over the past 160 years, they have attempted to contribute to the betterment of their society. The following are a few prominent examples:
Advancement of Women
One of the earliest champions of women’s rights in Iran was a prominent follower of the Prophet-founders of the Baha’i religion named Tahirih (“The Pure One”). Before being strangled to death for her beliefs in 1851, she stated: “You can kill me as soon as you like, but you cannot stop the emancipation of women.”
In 1875, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, the son of Baha’u’llah who is the founder of the Baha’i Faith, wrote a significant treatise focusing on the possibilities for the social and economic development of Persia (modern day Iran). This book has been published in English under the title The Secret of Divine Civilization.
The Baha’i teachings lay a heavy emphasis on the importance of education for social progress. As early as the 1880s, small village-level schools were started by Baha’is in Iran, and the establishment of major primary and secondary schools in urban centers soon followed.
Around 1900, for example, the Tarbiyat School for Boys was founded in Tehran, and by 1911 the ground-breaking Tarbiyat School for Girls had been established. Other Baha’i schools likewise quickly sprang up in Hamadan, Qazvin, Kashan, and Barfurush.
The schools were open to all, and many children who were not from Baha’i families enrolled. About half of the students in the schools in Tehran were not Baha’i, for example. By 1920, some 10 percent of the estimated 28,000 primary and secondary school children in Iran were enrolled in Baha’i-run schools, according to one source.
Most of the Baha’i schools were closed by government decree in the mid-1930s due to their Baha’i affiliation.
For more information about Baha’i schools in Iran, see “The Forgotten Schools: The Baha’is and Modern Education in Iran, 1899-1937,” by Dr. Soli Shahvar.
Unfortunately, Baha’is arising to contribute to their society have also had their services used against them. In May 2006, 54 Baha’i youths were arrested for providing literacy programs to underprivileged youths in Shiraz. The Iranian government accused them of using the literacy programs for spreading the Baha’i teachings.